Improving reading comprehension

Create your destiny

Clients often ask me how to improve reading comprehension. In particular, they want to learn to read faster to succeed on standardized admissions tests, e.g., iBT, GMAT and GRE.

Let me reiterate a few essential points about reading in general and reading in particular for your tests. These points may seem obvious to you, but you would be surprised how many applicants seem to ignore the practical advice they consider obvious.

  1. There are few shortcuts to improving reading ability other than to read.
  2. You can’t learn to read more effectively in English unless you read in English.
  3. It is ludicrous to sit in a training course somewhere (and pay an expensive fee) listening to an instructor translate an English passage from a test and believe that training is going to teach you to read in English.
  4. During the period you are preparing for your tests you must make sacrifices and trade off reading materials you might find more comfortable reading in your native language with newspapers, magazines, and web postings that you can read in English.
  5. Most Japanese have learned to read word for word, sentence by sentence. This is painstakingly slow on your test exams. It is also slow for the preparation you must make for school next year itself, during which you will be expected to read reams of English language material daily: case studies, textbooks, other materials. You must push yourself to read faster and to read first for ideas and second for the detail that backs up the main points the author makes.
  6. Learn to recognize easily the “signposts” that signal when to zero in on some aspect of a reading passage. Mastering these “signposts” will save you time.
  7. One of the blocks to improving reading comprehension is lack of vocabulary. I have written a previous blog post that provides tips on building vocabulary and an effective tool for that purpose
  8. You should construct your own word lists acquired through actual reading. Give up trying to write down every unknown word you encounter, especially “one-of-a-kind” technical terms you may never see again. Concentrate on basic words found in good English language materials that come up again and again and you don’t understand. This may be tedious in the short-term but will pay handsome dividends over time.
  1. Standardized tests are administered online. That means you had better practice reading online, reading articles on the Internet. Give up fooling around reading blogs that are poorly written, and dedicate that time to reading daily good articles online. The choices are unlimited, as for example:

Asian Wall St. Journal

Scientific American

National Geographic

Try this exercise daily:

  1. Pick out an article online of your choice. Choose whatever interests you.
  2. Read the article at your fastest pace.
  3. Write down in a few sentences the main point (s) of the article and support for that point.
  4. Go back and read the article again, this time as a slower pace, to see how well you did in the summary and to study vocabulary.
  5. Push yourself faster and faster as you gain experience with the exercise. It will build your ability in reading comprehension and also give you practice in writing. In speed reading, people are trained to use an index finger as if it were a baton to develop their speed. On the computer you can achieve the same purpose by using the “scroll down” function.

Here is a full list of excellent online English language reading sources:

Business Newspapers & Magazines:

Asian Wall St. Journal

This is one of the best newspapers in the world. Although the focus is business, the Asian WSJ also includes well-written articles about art, culture and technology and country-focused news around Asia including Japan Real Time. You should be reading it daily. You can even read onsite the Asian WSJ in Japanese, although that defeats the purpose of improving your English-language reading comprehension.

In business school, to be well-prepared for in-class and out-of-class discussions many students read the WSJ as a first step in the morning.

The Asian WSJ is subscription-based, although many of the articles in the online newspaper can be read free of charge.

Business Week

Business Week is an ideal source for tracking the currents global business trends. It has extensive information on investing, technology, small business, and careers. It has three print versions: US, Europe and Asia. Online versions of all three are also available.

Harvard Business Review (HBR)

If you are headed for business school, you may think of this magazine as required reading. Its articles are trenchant and thorough in research. The HBR is a subscription-based product, although plenty of the articles are available without subscribing. You can go back into the archives and find articles published in 1956 (two years after the term “cash flow” was first introduced in the English language).

In the HBR you can find case studies adapted for the magazine and a wealth of value-added content, for example, Toyota’s Recall Crisis: What Have We Learned—published February 11, 2011.

International Herald Tribune

I have been reading the International Herald Tribune ever since I was a graduate student in Europe. I liked the paper because it is compact and focused on international news. Then a joint venture of the Washington Post and the New York Times, the IHT was the best English language daily available at the time. There were no online newspapers to read because there was no internet! A few years ago the New York Times acquired a controlling interest in the International Herald Tribune. The style of the paper changed somewhat. I still read the IHT but prefer the Asian Wall Street Journal as a primary reading source.

Scientific American

Scientific American covers a vast array of emerging technologies, enabling readers to stay on top of the ever-changing world of science. The technical nature of this magazine makes it an excellent primer for the GMAT Reading Comprehension passages, which are often cover advanced scientific subjects like those found inside the pages of Scientific American.

The Economist

The Economist is the preeminent British business magazine. It is famous for hashing out the underlying broad trends behind seemingly isolated economic and political events. It is also well known for stronger editorial opinions than most business journals. It goes well beyond business, in that it also covers Science and Technology, Popular Culture, the Arts, Books, and the like. If you want to impress people at cocktail parties with your wide knowledge and interests, then this is the magazine for you. It is the magazine for choice for you particularly if you plan to study in Europe.

Financial Times

Britain’s leading business daily, the Financial Times publishes several editions, including FT Asia. In addition to extensive European and North American Business coverage, it also an excellent resource for looking at Japan Inc from an “outsider’s” perspective. Areas covered include markets and funds, macro economic issues (Bank of Japan, Federal Reserve, etc.), technology, business life, arts, and even sports. If you are considering attending business school in the UK, this is a must read. The FT is subscription-based. It is well-written and overall excellent.

Fortune Magazine

Fortune is the business magazine of choice of most Fortune 500 executives, often for vain reasons (they love reading about themselves). To give an idea, the average net worth of Fortune readers is over $2 million. The magazine is famous for its lists. In addition to the eponymous Fortune 500, it also ranks the most admired, fastest growing, and best run companies. In addition to its primary North America version, it also has Europe and Asia editions.


Forbes calls itself the “Home Page for the World’s Business Leaders.” To an extent this is an accurate statement. Like Fortune, Forbes is a favorite of corporate executives. Forbes is also a good source for business rankings and other lists of interests. Its topics include Technology, Markets, Employment, Personal Finance, and Lifestyle issues. Like many business magazines, it is personality driven, in that it focuses much attention on celebrity executives in sometimes softball interviews. Overall, however, with the broadness of its content, including video and audio, it is a good source of timely and interesting business information.


Barrons offers a high value online and print magazine for investors and investment professionals focused on stocks, bonds, and structured finance. It is a member of the Wall Street Journal digital network that includes the flagship WSJ, MarketWatch, FINS (finance), and SmartMoney. Barrons is subscription-based but some of its content is available online without a subscription. If you are in investment industry or plan to transition to investments, this magazine is right for you.

Institutional Investor

The Institutional Investor is a premier online destination for financial professionals. This is an excellent source for current and future financial analysts and fund managers. It covers the global world of finance, including special sections on Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. It has in depth information on corporate financing, derivatives, hedge funds, technology, and pension funds.

Fast Company

Fast Company is a monthly magazine focused on new industries. It provides information that gives entrepreneurs and business professionals insight on leadership and organization. The magazine also offers practical business tools and tactics, and it is a good source for interviews with the leaders of leading-edge companies.

Inc. Magazine

Inc’s editorial focus is on the people who run growing companies. It offers business and technology solutions to help current and aspiring entrepreneurs and executives run their businesses more effectively. In addition, it has features on capital finance, marketing, managing people, etc. Probably the strongest point of Inc. is the way it presents important information: The authors get straight to the point without wasting time with petty discussions or attempts to soften the blow of an undesirable fact. It provides good advice on how to help grow a young business.

Business 2.0

B2.0, a monthly print magazine with daily online updates, which unlike its former rival Red Herring, survived the crash of the Internet bubble. It remains the prototype “New Economy” magazine, offering a nice balance of traditional and contemporary business analysis, by covering the latest in developing technologies, business models, and trends. Regular features include “Startup” (“People, trends, wild conjecture”), “What Works” (“Tactics, tools, true-life adventures”) and “Self Serve” (“Navigate your life, enhance your view”).

School-Specific websites:


Updated every two weeks, this website/newsletter offers information and insight from both internal and external sources. The articles are both timely and insightful. Topics include analysis of current business trends, interviews with industry 9leaders and Wharton faculty, and book reviews. Nice features include a searchable database of related articles and links to hundreds of industry specific external sites.

INSEAD Knowledge

This online resource contains abstracts of INSEAD-produced working papers, case studies, journal articles and books. Themes include Business, Society & Environment, Change & Innovation, Economics, Trade & Policy, Entrepreneurship and Family Business, Finance & Banking, Knowledge Management, Marketing, Operations Management, People & Leadership, and Strategy/

London Business School Business Strategy Review

A quarterly research journal that covers the latest research, ideas, and issues related to the global business environment. It provides a forum in which the very latest research, ideas, and issues animating the global business environment can be debated as well as a rigorous analysis of the concerns facing today’s business leaders. It contains original research, global case studies, and corporate profiles.

Working Knowledge (Harvard Business School)

This weekly website/newsletter is updated is subtitled “for business leaders.” It provides information from HBS in a concise and practical way. In addition, it offers information on new management books and other external resources. Topics covered include Career Effectiveness, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Globalization, Innovation, Leadership, Marketing, Operations, Social Enterprise, Strategy, Technology, Corporate Governance, and Moral Leadership.

Stanford MBA Admissions Newsletter

This newsletter is targeted at prospective Stanford MBA applicants. It provides information on Stanford road shows, provides perspectives from current students and recent graduates, and provides answers to frequently asked questions such as “I’ve heard that I need at least three years of work experience to be a competitive applicant.” Current GSB news and links are also provided. A useful resource.

Columbia Business School News & Information

This online site provides current information on events and programs at Columbia Business School. Typical topics include Career Services Forums, a Media and Information Conference, and a Women in Business Conference. The sight also has a news archive.

Northwestern University Press Series

Northwestern University Press launched a book series last year. The first book was titled “Kellogg on China, ” written by Kellogg professors Anuradha Dayal-Gulati and Angela Y. Lee. The information was drawn from the Kellogg School’s Global Initiatives in Management program. This year’s book is “Kellogg on Biotechnology.” Both books are available at commercial book stores. More information is available on the website.

Chicago Booth Magazine

This magazine is published in print and online three times a year. It covers alumni accomplishments, faculty research as well as school news and activities. The e-Newsletter provides timely GSB news, announcements and information on global GSB-related events.

Cornell Business

This is an online and print, student-run monthly publication. It covers on-campus events, global Johnson School-related happenings, and does feature stories on current students and alumni. It provides information on career opportunities as well.

Company-Specific Websites:

The McKinsey Quarterly

This is McKinsey’s business journal, containing the leading global strategy firm’s latest thinking on management, strategy, and finance across a global range of industries and functions. Typical topics include Merger Valuation, Governing Joint Ventures, Trends in India, and US Trade Deficit issues.

Strategy + Business

This is an online and print quarterly magazine published by Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the world’s leading strategic consulting firms.
It is primarily a thought leadership magazine targeted at corporate executives and those who aspire to be corporate executives.

Ernst & Young

This global accounting and audit giant, provides links to important surveys, White Papers and reports. Also connects readers with EY professionals and their views on the issues that most affect their clients—which include many of the world’s most important companies, in a cross-section of industries. Areas of expertise include auditing and accounting, tax, financial services, technology, communications, real estate and retail.

Deloitte Research

From the global accounting and consulting firm Deloitte Touch Tohmatsu, Deloitte Research “identifies, analyzes and explains the major issues confronting businesses today and shaping tomorrow’s marketplace. From provocative points of view about strategy and organizational change to straight talk about economics, regulation and technology, Deloitte Research delivers innovative, practical insights companies can use to improve their performance and gain competitive advantage.”

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier